This article is about hormones and weight gain, but first I wanted to share a quick story…
There is no beach culture in Canada where I grew up.
As a result my perception of people’s bodies came from magazines, movies and television. I ended up developing this crazy idea that most people at the beach were “perfect” and that I, an overweight kid, was a freak.
Crazy, I know!
I thought like this until I started travelling to Europe and going to the beach regularly.
Aside from a handful of private clubs most beaches look exactly like this:
I observed every conceivable body shape and size, on every age. I saw all kinds of birthmarks, scars and deformities and it was very healing to my psyche to see the diversity of the human race that wasn’t airbrushed to perfection.
What I found very interesting however, was how everyone stores fat in a different pattern. Some people store fat on their arms, others on their thighs and some on their belly.
Back then I thought this was due to their exercise patterns, thinking that people with trim legs and a large belly worked out mostly on their legs and didn’t do core exercises. Or that people with large arms neglected arm exercises and worked on their legs, and so on.
I then learned the relationship between hormones and weight gain
Years later and some time into my fitness career I started learning about hormones, in particular the work of Charles Poliquin and his method called BioSignature Modulation.
The method is based upon the idea that hormone imbalances result in fat storage on 12 specific sites on the body, and that addressing those hormone imbalances will resolve those specific issues.
Those sites are the chin, cheek, chest, upper arms, lower sides of waist, middle sides of waist, the area between the chest and armpit, belly, knee, calf, front of the thighs and the back of the thighs.
According to the theory each area tells us what’s going on hormonally in the body. Not only was this amazingly cool to learn about, but I found that in practice addressing those hormonal imbalances really works!
So please allow me to summarize this information for you so that you can learn about the relationship between hormones and weight gain so you can make more informed choices about what you can eat and how to move for better body composition!
But before I start I must say something: addressing hormonal imbalances for the sake of fat loss is not enough of a compelling reason to make lasting lifestyle changes. The fat is a symptom of a deeper problem. Hormonal balances can result in terrible diseases like cancer and heart attacks. If you have an issue it is important to speak with a qualified professional trained in holistic health management.
And with that out of the way, let’s begin! I mentioned the 12 areas above but will list the areas below that I get asked the most about:
Belly / Stomach
Fat storage in this area is indicative of high levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. Excessive cardio and prolonged dieting will not shift the fat in this area and may make it worse.
This reminds me of a guy I met when I first started working at a gym. He used to run for an hour each day and do marathons. One day he lifted his shirt and I was shocked at how flabby his belly was! It was a mystery to me back then but it isn’t anymore.
Running is the most overrated form of exercise if you ask me. I’ve had good results in using it in intervals on the treadmill (i.e. 2 minutes walking, 2 minutes running, for 20 minutes) but this trend of doing prolonged running is hard on the joints, increases stress hormones and causes excess fat in the midsection.
When I mention this to some people they have a negative reaction. One friend in particular insisted that it kept her in great shape, but if you look at her now (she’s since “fallen off the bandwagon”) you will notice that her waist is larger than her hips which confirms Poliquin’s theory that excess stress increases fat in the midsection.
Other women I know continue to run because they see pictures of fashion models on social media engaged in running, and think they will achieve similar results.
Please allow me to clarify something: models are between the ages of 14-19 and are done by age 25. This means that they simply haven’t had enough time to screw their hormones up. And on top of that I’ve learned from industry insiders that most have paper-thin skin, thinning hair and disordered eating patterns – all synonymous with stress hormone imbalance.
And besides, have you ever seen someone running with a smile on their face?
Upper Arms & Chest
High fat levels in this area indicate low levels of testosterone.
Testosterone is considered to be a male hormone but women produce it as well. It is needed to optimize burning of fat and to maintain optimal body composition.
Natural ways to increase testosterone include: eating high quality protein, getting good quality sleep, lifting weights (on the heavier side), getting enough Vitamin D, optimizing magnesium & zinc levels and removing toxic cosmetics and perfumed body products from your life.
All this makes perfect sense for a man that has “man boobs” but for women it may be a concern that increasing testosterone may also decrease her breast size.
My experience has resulted in this conclusion: if you have lots of arm fat AND uncomfortably large breasts then increasing testosterone will reduce both arm and breast fat.
But if you have excess fat on your arms and small breasts then you need to increase testosterone while balancing estrogen and progesterone (female hormones). That’s a very important post for another day so if you want an alert by email please subscribe to my newsletter by filling out this short form:
Hips & Thighs
This is the big one for most of us ladies, especially those of us that are of childbearing age.
High levels of fat in this area indicate high estrogen levels. But I have to say as a matter of opinion that if you have fat on your thighs that’s proportional to your body then this is very healthy because it means you have extra energy on your body for childbearing.
But if the extra fat is out of control it means you have too much estrogen in your body, and much of it may be “fake” estrogen absorbed from the environment in the form of chemical compounds called “xenoestrogens”.
Some people think estrogen is the dominant female hormone and that having a lot of it makes you very “feminine” but that’s not true. It’s the ratio of estrogen to another hormone called progesterone that determines how “feminine” you look.
I had this issue many years ago in my twenties and people that know me will say that I look drastically different now, and much more feminine. This is what I had to do:
(1) I got off the contraceptive pill
I took it for a few cycles almost twenty years ago and haven’t touched it since. Not only did it have negative consequences for my health but I also saw the same issues with my friends and that was reason enough for me to stop it. If you would like to read more, here is a great article written by Donna Gates at Body Ecology.
(2) I threw out all perfumed products
This includes antiperspirants, cheap shampoos/conditioners, shower gels and soaps – all of which are a source of “xenoestrogens”, the “fake” estrogens found in our environment. I substituted these with homemade concoctions made of baking soda and coconut oil. There’s literally hundreds of recipes online.
(3) I stopped wearing makeup 15 years ago
What goes on your skin goes in your skin. It was hard to look at myself without makeup at first because I felt I looked “better” with makeup. But I know it was the right thing to do and felt that if someone was going to love me they had better meet the “real” me. I also think this is why I don’t really have wrinkles at age 40.
It will be difficult at first because the top layer of your skin has literally been “poisoned” by the chemicals in the makeup, plus the decreased oxygen flow. You can always try using this massage roller by the Body Shop in conjuction with this brand of emu oil to increase circulation and rebuild the top layer of your skin. I’ve been using both of these for a while now and my skin has never looked better considering I’ve never used sunscreen and smoked for years. So if you ask me, they work. I also don’t use anything to wash my face except plain water and avoid moisturizers.
(4) I removed processed food and dairy from my diet
I eat organic wherever possible and have made room for it in my budget in the leanest of times. Some clients claim that they cannot afford higher quality food yet I’m curious as to why they say this while being able to afford to drink wine each night, have 20 pairs of shoes or a bag full of expensive makeup.
Perhaps it is more effective to say that rather than not being able to afford it, it’s not a priority.
I don’t mean to be harsh but the temporary increase to self-esteem from that $30 lip gloss is just that, temporary. But the high one gets from eating high quality food lasts a long time.
(5) I increased cruciferous vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, kale, broccolini, cabbage and brussel sprouts. Besides tasting great with a bit of lemon and olive oil, they will also keep your bowels moving and detox xenoestrogens from the body.
(6) I quit drinking alcohol
I stopped drinking alcohol in 2005 after drinking for years and working as a bartender. It was difficult at first because it left an empty space in my life – a mind state that helped me escape from reality. But it was for the best and I learned to tackle life head on and deal with all my issues with a clear head.
I may not have done it for my hormones at the time but it was one of the most beneficial things I have ever done for my overall health.
Balanced Hormones are the Key to Fat Loss
When I started looking at the problem of excess weight as a hormonal issue my perception shifted. No longer was I a victim of the diet industry that capitalizes on the incorrect idea that solving my problem involved hard exercise and intense calorie restriction.
This article contains a lot of information and the information may be a bit confusing at first. Here are some action steps that benefit EVERYONE:
(1) Add cruciferous vegetables to your shopping list and eat them each day at dinner
(2) Replace all your cosmetics with natural versions
(3) Avoid alcohol
(4) Do some light cardio each day for 20 minutes
(5) Eat high quality protein twice a day
(6) Ditch the fake processed food
(7) Reduce stress by taking the time to meditate/pray or just sit in silence
Mainstream fitness advice of doing difficult exercise and restricting calories just isn’t good enough when it comes to fine-tuning your body and reducing fat deposits that seem difficult to shift. It may require a bit of effort and research on your part but it’s well worth it!